Watford FC Season Preview

Written by David Robinson

The Premier League season is upon us and this campaign will be an interesting one for the Hornets. With many considering it to be an excellent term under Quique Sanchez Flores, which overall it was, the attention now turns to Walter Mazzari and his side as the Golden Boys look to establish themselves in the top tier of English football. As ever there is always change at Vicarage Road in some form, I look ahead to the 16/17 season and what it could hold for the club under a new regime.

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credit Franziska

Transfers

The club have made a few ins and outs this summer, notably to provide the Italian Head Coach with the tools to implement a successful 3-5-2 formation. Last season’s squad stepped up and made sure the club were never in any real danger of relegation but overall the transfers were largely more miss than hit although there were more than enough hits to ensure a successful season. The transfers in have been made with plenty of forward thinking which I think is something that was lacking at times which led to a few players coming in who contributed nothing to the club. Doucoure returns from a loan spell with Granada which will now be his first taste in a Watford shirt. His reportedly impressive spell looks like he could play an important part this season with the physical characteristics ready made for the Premier League and a box-to-box midfielder that should really suit this season’s system. With little activity recently most deals have been done without rushing into them, the most key ones should be the arrival of Isaac Success, Christian Kabasele, Brice Dja Djedje and Camilo Zuniga. Notably here the arrival of 2 wing backs will be pivotal as to whether the club can actually make strides this season. This became the real weakness in the side at right back and having such poor from for a prolonged spell in a department cannot happen again. There are now so many options at wing-back that there should be no constantly poor performances this time round. Kabasele will have to prove his worth but I felt another centre half was certainly needed especially with a 3 back system. As ever and as Watford fans should well know by now, we cannot make presumptions with transfers, we just have to wait and see how they turn out however I believe we have a squad ready to fight, with plenty of grit and capabilities but overall the quality doesn’t looked to have taken improvements from what is now months ago.

The key departures from last season are Almen Abdi, Steven Berghuis and Jurado, none of these can be deemed as huge losses based on performances last term however with the squad lacking an attacking midfielder you can only hope that this area will be resolved before the window shuts otherwise criticism will be justified with both Jurado and Abdi never being allowed a fair crack in their favourite positions. While I believe there is no point speculating over signings, it’s more important to ask where the transfers leave us.

I have my concerns with the set up this season, I believe there are potentially alarming problems waiting should the 3-5-2 system be ineffective, as it has been for quite a few teams in this league in the past. The lack of flexibility could come back to bite us, and while there is still enough time to get some fresh faces in, this window has been fairly underwhelming so far with so much money going around, fans haven’t been given a name to get excited about so far. Alternatives brought in up front is a plus from last season as if Ighalo doesn’t perform, capable looking replacements will be waiting in the wings, something that provides important insurance for the Hornets. Overall a window that doesn’t give much inspiration though.

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credit Ungry Young Man

Expectations

I believe this season should be about consolidating again for Watford. A season without being in danger with more consistency throughout the season would be another successful one in my opinion. This is because last season’s quality throughout the league was quite dreadful in truth. A lot of the heavyweights will surely not perform as bad and you would expect a more predictable league where breaching the top half would require extraordinary levels of performance considering the lack of high profile business made by the club this season. Add end of last season’s abysmal form and you start to fear about looking down rather than up. There will be a lot of uncertainty at a lot of clubs but I’d say no more than at Watford. The key question is have the club addressed the problems towards the end of last season and the answer isn’t a convincing yes. Therefore the expectations can merely be once again to avoid the drop and see where it takes us.

Key Factors

An absolutely vital factor going into this season is the performance of Odion Ighalo, he effectively dictated results a lot of the time with his goal scoring touch or lack of in the later parts. He needs to perform really otherwise I have real concerns for this side. The club clearly have faith blocking all interest and rewarding the Nigerian with a new contract. He really was fantastic through the opening months but there is equally no underestimating how bad he was towards the end of the time under Flores. His performances will have a big say again I’d imagine although as mentioned before with some back up in the ranks, that provides some comfort should the 27 year old start as he left off.

The first six fixtures won’t define a season but it will without a doubt set the tone for Watford, some of the hardest matches on paper imaginable have been dealt and should the club not set a good return then there will be reason for concern I believe. Zero points will be expected and after watching the side last year match all of the top teams at home yet still yield nothing, it gives little confidence personally that we will defy the odds early on. On the other hand what a chance it is to cause some upsets, a great start which I would consider as 7+ points would really build some confidence under the new boss. While a lot of these games should involve the pressure being on the opposition, I think in the circumstances there will be a need to pick up points before facing some crucial away games at expected relegation threatened sides. This spell will be crucial one way or another.

The rest of the window I think can have a say as to where the club can finish, an attacking midfielder is needed and attempts to find that man have been made clear but getting one of high calibre would be a big lift in this system where a player who feeds the strike partnership will take us forwards to a new level where as the moment, on paper we look unbalanced, something you cannot afford over the whole season. Bringing in just 1 or 2 signings could make the difference but real quality is what’s needed to take the club past last season’s 13th place finish.

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credit The Stadium Guide

Season 16/17

A few worries going into this season however the club have a superb set of owners who seem to keep producing. With the Pozzo’s in charge you always have faith that the club will be in safe hands. Relegation is of course a real possibility, the club continue to be tipped for the drop however this time round I have my own concerns that preparation and development has not been to the levels needed to push on. This should be an all round tougher challenge and I don’t feel we are equipped well enough yet. I believe we can have a similar season in terms of surviving without real pressure, part of me feels this will be the case but reaching the top half against heavy spenders doesn’t seem realistic. Hopefully the club can take another giant leap by defying the odds again once more in it’s development and achieve a top half finish.

Watford fans, what are your expectations for this season? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Ben Sutherland